Clyfford Still


Shawn McNulty Art
Abstract Paintings


Clyfford Still Museum opens in Denver, attracts crowd

clyfford still museum opening

With an opera singer belting out Mozart, a cast of dignitaries, a sprinkling of relatives of the late Clyfford Still, and a big crowd, the artist's namesake museum opened Friday in downtown Denver.

Until Friday morning, many of the paintings by the influential abstract expressionist had never been seen by the public. None of them had been viewed since he died in 1980.

The museum, a $29 million box of concrete at 1250 Bannock St., adds another architectural talking point to downtown's corridor of culture, from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lower Downtown to the archipelago of structures near Civic Center: the Denver Public Library, the original Denver Art Museum, the museum's Hamilton wing, and now the Clyfford Still Museum.

The museum "will make the city a destination for all people interested in 20th-century art," said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during the opening ceremonies.

Still, considered one of the fathers of abstract expressionism, died with most of his work still in his possession. His one-page will declared the entire collection, 60 years' worth of painting and drawing and sculpture, would go to a city that vowed to build a museum for it.

With nearly 20 cities vying for the collection, it took nearly a quarter-century for Still's wife, Patricia, to select the permanent home. In August 2004, she chose Denver. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was Denver mayor at the time of Patricia Still's decision, was instrumental in persuading the artist's wife.

"I know my dad is smiling down on us," said Diane Still Knox, 72, one of Still's daughters who attended the opening. "This is a perfect combination. The building doesn't overtake the art."

The architect, Brad Cloepfil, "created a beautiful building that lights up the paintings the way they should be — with natural light," she said.

Once the doors opened at 10 a.m., art and architecture lovers began roaming the airy rooms filled with Still's big, colorful canvases and smaller drawings.

"Even his early work is a bit abstract, but it's interesting; it's like watching things melt as he becomes totally abstract," said Graham Steinruck, 25, who leads private culinary mushroom hunts around the state.

Junichi Fujita, 26, a winemaker from Denver, also appreciated the way the museum presents Still's work, from his figurative drawings and paintings in the 1920s to the gigantic canvases filled with jagged forms, highly juxtaposed color and blank canvas.

"It's great to see how his abstract expressionism formed."

Mavis Jan-Lai, 72, flew all the way from Connecticut to attend the opening.

The retired schoolteacher and artist was a childhood friend of one of Still's daughters.

"I came to see his early works, which I've never seen," she said.

May Mullan, 78, came from Wheat Ridge. The Ireland native visits Denver museums once a month.

"I like the building, but some of the paintings I don't understand," she said. "I lived in Alberta, and I liked the painting of the laborers."

Still, who was born in North Dakota, spent the first 30 years of his life painting in the prairies of eastern Washington state and Alberta, Canada. One of the nonabstract works in the collection depicts men in Alberta harvesting wheat.

Many first-day visitors came for the art, but others wanted to experience the building itself.

Sonja Ferdows, 44, a lighting designer in Denver, marveled over the building space.

"It's the way he (Cloepfil) brings daylight in that is remarkable," she said. "And how he handles the textures of materials, what he did with concrete. I have detailed photographs of the concrete that I stare at for hours."

Ferdows had attended an earlier, private opening of the museum.

"I'm inspired by the architecture," she said. "And I'm glad it is combined with art that I will get to know."

- Douglas Brown | Denver Post | November 20th, 2011